Sprinkler Spruce Up! Orange County and Home Depot Help Conserve Water

Lessons from Orange County’s Sprinkler Spruce-Up encourage tasteful water-saving landscapes.
Sprinkler Spruce Up! Orange County and Home Depot Help Conserve Water
The event included displays of flowering plants and shrubs that don’t require extensive irrigation to survive dry conditions.

According to the U.S. EPA, just one broken irrigation sprinkler head can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water and more than $90 in a six-month watering season.

In the drought-ravaged Southwest U.S., that’s not only wasted water, but also wasted opportunity. That’s why one California water district formed a partnership with Home Depot to urge efficient irrigation practices.

“We’ve really cracked down on water usage as the drought has continued, but one area we were kind of missing the boat on was irrigation systems,” says Joe Berg, the director of water-use efficiency for the Municipal Water District of Orange County. “The overall goal of our Sprinkler Spruce-Up program is to encourage people to pay attention to their irrigation systems.”

Team effort

The district, supplying water to 2.3 million customers of 28 water utilities in three cities, collaborated with several water utilities to kick off its Sprinkler Spruce-Up in spring 2014. The district teamed with the Orange County Stormwater Program and the University of California Cooperative Extension to host three events at Home Depot stores in northern, central and southern Orange County.

More than 700 retail customers learned about WaterSense-labeled, weather-based irrigation controllers and the importance of updating and maintaining irrigation systems. The program expands on an idea promoted by the EPA WaterSense program.

“It puts the focus on the water consumer,” says Berg. “Not only are we looking at the amount of water used, but also everything else you are putting in your yard and how that affects both the water supply and water quality. The focus is on the complete journey of every drop of water that hits a yard.”

‘Smart’ success

On three Saturdays in May and June, the district and its partners hosted booths at Home Depots garden centers, engaging customers before they made landscaping decisions. The area was stocked with low-water-using plants and WaterSense-labeled controllers marked as rebate eligible.

Knowing that cost-saving incentives often drive customers’ behavior, the district offered rebates of up to $380 per device and $120 per installation on qualifying controllers. If all consumers who qualified for rebates at the events upgraded their irrigation systems with properly installed, programmed and maintained WaterSense-labeled controllers, they could save more than 4,300 gallons of water per day.

“The controllers direct how much water is used for irrigation, taking into account the weather conditions and humidity, and also the change in seasons,” says Berg. “They can be very effective saving water while maintaining a nice garden.”

The program worked in a big way: WaterSense controller sales at the three locations increased by more than 225 percent compared to average daily sales. Assuming the 106 weather-based controllers replaced standard clock timers, Berg estimates nearly 1.6 million gallons of water saved each year — some 15,000 gallons of water per home.

“May was really the perfect time to promote an event like this,” says Berg. “People are excited to get out and work in their gardens and enthusiastic about learning about the new technology that’s out there.”

Spread the word

The Orange County district and its partners used multiple media platforms and advertising to drive customers to the events, including social media, press releases, flyers, brochures, utility inserts and bus wraps. Cities and water agencies promoted the events on bill stuffers, in newsletter articles, and on social media and websites.

The participating organizations distributed fliers to each Home Depot store in the county, highlighting the water-efficient irrigation devices and detailing the program goals. Orange County staff worked with Home Depot to make sure all promoted products were appropriately labeled and easy for customers to find.

“Home Depot shared our commitment to making these events a success,” says Berg. “We educated dozens of their employees on the importance of water-use efficiency and how the irrigation systems and smart controls are effective. They were enthused to work with us, and I think that showed in the overall success of the events.”

Another measure of success was the power of traditional and new-age media. The events garnered more than 7.3 million marketing impressions. “We still get follow-up calls weekly from magazines and newspapers from all over the country wanting to talk about our partnership with Home Depot,” says Berg. “That has led to other water operators and municipalities calling to pick our brains on how to do similar programs in their areas. We’re obviously more than happy to share.”

Keys to the future

Critical to the initiative was city and water agency staff involvement in the planning, execution and public outreach. Staff took part in coordination meetings and conference calls, helped with applications for permits and volunteered at the events.

Water agencies and city stormwater representatives also promoted local incentive programs and worked with Home Depot staff to increase awareness of incentives and rebates, climate-appropriate plants, and irrigation equipment. The stores continued to promote the water-efficient products after the events.

“I think the key to a successful outreach program is choosing partners who share your enthusiasm for the idea you’re promoting,” says Berg. “Home Depot is making sales, but they know they are doing a good thing for the environment as well, and they embraced that.”

After the initial success, Berg sees an opportunity to expand them. Home Depot stores in California and other garden centers have expressed interest in holding similar events.

“These retail outlets are big stakeholders, because if our water reserves become depleted, irrigation is no longer feasible, and people will no longer be able to plant gardens,” Berg says.

“Events like this enable them to reach customers and help us get the word out on the importance of water-use efficiency. It’s a win-win.”


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